Old Testament Horror

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The horribly disfigured Dr. Anton Phibes was three things before that car crash back in 1921. (He was racing to the hospital to be by his wife’s side who died to death on the operating table before Phibes could get there.) 1. He was an expert in theology, the study of God and religious gunk. 2. He was an expert in music, and even built a robo-band in his secret hideaway to accompany his piped organ. 3. He was a master of revenge, setting ingenious traps inspired by the Old Testament’s ten plagues of Egypt on the doctors who failed to keep his gorgeous wife from freshness expiring. It’s clear who Jigsaw’s mentor is.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Even though he was presumed dead, Phibes somehow managed to survive and has plotted his plot every since. He can’t talk as he drank a fiery gasoline cocktail that fried his larynx. But he can stick a plug into his neck that runs into an speaker to converse through his damaged yapper. Clearly, Tom Waits has a mentor.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Phibes also has a hottie assistant named Vulnavia who is mute, the best kind of assistant to have. They conspire to track down the physicians and exact vengeance in the corresponding ten plagues, which includes – but is not limited to – bats, frogs, locusts and…dripping acid. I’m not up on bible stuff, but if Moses used acid on the Pharaoh, that would totally kick scripture.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

One by one the doctors are luridly discharged from life, while Phibes celebrates by blow-torching wax head likenesses of his victims. His robo-band – Dr. Phibes’ Clockwork Wizards (cool name; I’d buy their album) – provides a nice big band jazz-y soundtrack. But all of this is forming clues as apparent to Scotland Yard’s Inspector Trout. (Insert your own joke here.)

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Phibes, though, is saving the best death for Dr. Vesalius, the head physician who preceded over Victoria’s failed surgery. Capturing Vesalius’ son, Phibes straps the boy to a surgical table in the basement of his mega-mansion, with a coiled tube full of skin-melting acid making it’s way towards the boy’s unhappy face. Vesalius is called to the trap and has six minutes to surgically extract a key from the unconscious boy’s torso, which will unlock the locks holding him to the table. (You may recall this similar scene employed in 2004’s Saw.)

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

While Vesalius is operating and sweating like an Old testament pig, Phibes, through his robo-throat, confesses what this is all about. His ultimate goal is to seal himself in a coffin that holds his wife’s preserved body in a shiny pajama robe, and descend under the floor of his mega-mansion while Vulnavia destroys the Clockwork Wizards. (She need not bother; music critics already did that, calling their music “stiff and lifeless.” Ouch.)

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) is great black horror comedy, raising the bar on revenge and giving an homage nod to The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Better yet, I hear the unspeaking Vulnavia is single – mute button included.

4 Responses to “Old Testament Horror”

  1. And let us not forget: the part of Mrs Phibes (deceased) was ably played by Caroline Munro, one of the Hammer Studios horror legends.
    “The Abominable Dr Phibes” is also one of the few movies whose sequel was just as good. In fact, I once saw both of them presented as a drive in double feature.

  2. Especially for a woman of such enormous talents.

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